Monday, 30 April 2007

A little serious history

As I have been reading more about the German migrant experience, I have realised how little I know about German history. My current task is to rectify that without getting too distracted from my other research.

By chance I was able to pick up a German history book for $1 at our local library’s annual sale. I was thrilled with my “take” -- $20 for 22 books and I got to feel good by supporting the library.

The book I found was The Fontana History of Germany, 1780 to 1918: The Long Nineteenth Century by David Blackbourn which covers the very period in which I am interested. Blackbourn is a historian who is currently director of The Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies at Harvard University. Academic credentials aside, the blurb talks about his interest in social, political and cultural change examined through study of “migration, housing, diet, crime and medicine” and calls it a “powerful and original book…essential for anyone interested in modern German history.”

I am pleased that it is a “serious” history, but it does mean that it is a bit of a dry read, rhapsodies of the blurb notwithstanding.

I am in the middle of a section on the economic and social transformation of Germany between 1849 and 1880. Coming up is an explanation of the factors influencing the massive migrations of the later part of the nineteenth century. This should give me some insight into the lives of the Jaeckels before they left Germany and the social conditions of the times. Reports on my progress will follow.

Friday, 27 April 2007

Migrant history as a tourist destination

Searching the web to find information about migrants leaving Germany through Hamburg, I found out that on July 4 this year a museum will be opening there, the BallinStadt Emigration Museum (or the more romantic German version “Auswandererwelt”). Between 1850 and 1939 some five million Germans passed through Hamburg on their way to the rest of the world. Most went to the United States. Some came to Australia. A press release from the museum estimates that 20 million Americans and half of all American Jews can trace their ancestry to migrants who passed through Hamburg

The museum is partially sponsored by Hapag-Lloyd, a company created in 1970 from a merger of Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Actien-Gesellschaft (Hamburg-America Line or Hapag) and Norddeutscher Lloyd (NDL), based in Bremen. You will remember that NDL ran migrant ships from Bremen to Australia. Both companies made their money originally from converting ships to carry migrants. Hapag, in particular was involved to the extent of building dormitories for the migrants on the docks in Hamburg. These dormitories were completed in 1901 so the Jaeckels would not have stayed in one. However, it illustrates how migration was big business at the turn of the twentieth century.

In 1892 a cholera outbreak led to the closing of the Hamburg and Prussian borders. The flow of migrants virtually stopped until Hapag and NDL guaranteed to cover the cost of examining and disinfecting migrants wishing to cross the borders. By this time, only migrants carrying tickets from these two shipping companies were allowed through the borders. Thus, a lucrative business continued.

The BallinStadt museum will contain a sculpture entitled “Wings of Hope” on which descendents of migrants can arrange to have their ancestors’ names placed on a plaque (similar to Freemantle Harbour Maritime Museum’s Migrants Wall in West Australia). I like how the sculptor expresses his hope that the “experience of walking in a claustrophobic spiral and exiting as the spiral opens out to the west will capture the "ambivalent situation" of the emigrants -- "their hope, but also fear and despair."

Thursday, 26 April 2007

The value of minutia

I have been reading family histories again. I find them really useful because of the wealth of information about the lives of the people listed such as ages and birth dates, marriages, separations, where people were born and how. Obviously, these things are what families want to know and these histories serve that function.

If I am to tell a realistic story of the Jaeckels, these kinds of details of everyday life are vital. I have two histories borrowed from the local school library and I will look for more at the historical society and at the State Library. I want to build up a mental image of my family so that I can write about them without being didactic.

I find in a lot of historical novels (particularly those aimed at young readers), details aren’t incorporated into the flow of the narrative but are forced into the text. Sometimes it almost seems to be a form of cultural superiority – “Oh, look at the funny natives.” Other times, it has the tone of a learned teacher discoursing about the past. I don’t want to do that. I want to tell a story that will carry people along learning about the past as imperceptibly as possible.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007


Today is ANZAC Day, a commemoration of the Australian and New Zealand armed forces. It began as a memorial for soldiers who fought at Gallipoli in 1915 and has widened to become a general day of remembrance for all who have served in the military.

ANZAC Day arouses interesting feelings in the Rosewood Scrub. There is a parade at Rosewood but Marburg has not had a parade for some time although plans are in the air for holding one in 2008. Anti-German feeling was rife in the Rosewood Scrub during the war years. In addition to changing names of towns from German to more English-sounding names (Marburg to Townshend, Minden to Frenchton and Kirchheim to Haigslea), a number of prominent residents were interned for suspected sympathy with Germany and of this number, some were denaturalised and deported. There are anecdotal stories about how locals shunned “Germans” during both world wars.

Dr. Euchariste Sirois is credited with the successful campaign to have original town names restored, although Haigslea has remained. However, the Returned Services League (RSL), which represents the armed forces and organises commemorative activities has maintained the name “Townshend” on its board of honour. It is also reported that the list does not list many of the German men who served.

It’s an interesting legacy in an area that has been so dominated by its German population. The parade next year has been suggested by one of our political representatives. I wonder if he has much knowledge of this history? I wonder if the RSL will allow a parade under the banner of Marburg?

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Dark alleys of research

I was going to write a moving paragraph or two on saying goodbyes, a topic about which I know a great deal. I thought about the countries in which I have lived, the books and furniture I have shipped around, given away and sold and the friends I have left behind. I thought about who and what the Jaeckels might have had to say goodbye to.

Instead because my youngest decided not to cooperate, I flicked through a couple of magazines sent to me by someone I know, while my son combined a rampage through the bookshelves and toys with intermittent poking of fingers in my eyes.

With regard to these magazines, normally these kind of conservative religious earth-mother publications are not something that I would read. Anything that states its goal as being to “encourage women in their higher calling as wives, mothers and homemakers”; uses the phrase “feministic” whether derogatorily or not; or describes home-birthing in any level of detail, raises my hackles. However, I justified looking at them as research on the dynamics and mechanics of large families. You might remember that many of the migrant families in this area had seven or more children.

After a whirlwind tour through the backwoods of Tennessee and Texas (and to be honest, Queensland), I did learn that in large families, the younger children are often looked after by their older siblings thus enabling mum to do her chores. My mother-in-law has told me about changing her little brother’s nappies on the floor because she couldn’t reach the counter. She was about five years old and in charge while her parents were at work in the fields. Another woman in their village in southern Germany used to tie her child to a hitching ring in the yard while she worked in the fields. While everyone disapproved of this, they understood it too.

However, this wasn’t a particularly fruitful avenue of research. In fact, I was so depressed after reading two magazines that I required heavy doses of chocolate, coffee and the New York Times’ Sunday Review of Books.

Monday, 23 April 2007

Of sailing ships and pretty pictures

I have found some pictures that are of interest. One is of the Hamburg ship Reichstag which brought many German migrants to Queensland directly from Hamburg. Quite a few of the ancestors of locals in the Rosewood Scrub arrived on this ship.

The Reichstag was a three masted iron sailing vessel built in Glasgow in 1867. It was still a new ship when it started doing the Hamburg to Queensland run. It had two decks and a reputation as clean and well run.

Other migrants arrived on the Lammershagen, another iron sailing vessel built in Scotland. It had a more difficult reputation with an enquiry held in 1873 on accusations against its surgeon, Dr. Schmidt, for maltreatment of passengers, “improper behaviour with the matron”, brutality towards women and children and using insulting language towards the passengers. The enquiry cleared him but a letter to the editor of the Brisbane Courier declared the process to be “a thorough whitewashing.”

The second picture is interesting because it is a wood engraving of the Norddeutsche Lloyd which brought migrants to Adelaide as well as taking mail back and forth to Bremen approximately once a month. It shows the ship itself and Bremen docks in 1870 so you get an idea of the surroundings and atmosphere.

"The Norddeutsche Lloyd waiting room", at Bremerhaven New Harbour, 1870
Wood engraving, Historisches Museum Bremerhaven

These pictures give me a sense of what an immense step it was to leave Germany for Australia. Imagine stepping onto a floating piece of iron 53 metres long by 9.17 metres wide (and 5.68 metres high) to travel the ocean for 100 days to a place that you know nothing about. How great the motivation must have been to leave and how great the desire for a new life. Would this be an adventure to the Jaeckels or would it be a terrifying step into the unknown?

Friday, 20 April 2007

Some statistics and politics of drought

“Water is our born right. Even Birdsville has a water supply.”
Coominya resident at an angry meeting with Esk Shire Council in the Gatton Star, April 18, 2007.

The last time it rained in Marburg township was March 25, nearly a month ago. The 4.5mm of rain contributed to a total so far this year of 194.25mm. On average, by the end of March we have had 325.2mm. Last year we had even less rain in those three months which are the key months for rain in southeast Queensland. In contrast, in 2004 we had 450mm in that period.

In 1892, the rainfall was 1311mm. In 1893, 1853mm of rain fell with heavy flooding in Marburg in February and June. In the entire 1890s the average annual rainfall was above 900mm. In 1924 to 1927 rainfall was again low with only 361mm falling in 1926.

Now the hills are shades of tan, brown, gold and fawn. Grass crunches underfoot. Animals are looking thin. Trees look tired and dusty. You can’t see through the dust if you drive down the road too closely behind your neighbour. The relentless sunshine and dry wind continue. Water is not our born right here in Queensland.

In 1876 Gottlieb Raddatz forfeited his selection for auction when he found that he could not access water resources. In 1883 Apostle H.F. Niemeyer could not locate water on his farm and trekked four miles to Grandchester where he had been told there was water. He found a dam with a dead calf in it, but took a bucket of water and boiled it on his return. When his wife joined him on the farm she would walk the distance to Grandchester to do laundry. I think I might have just worn dirty clothes.

Nothing stirs tension and resentment more than water (and grass) in this area. Who has water, who needs water and what people will do to obtain it. Without water, the grass doesn’t grow and the stock suffer. Water has become a commodity, not a right.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

A diversion through architecture and theology

Driving east to Plainlands today (which was presumably named after the flat land in the valley and not for its lack of scenic amenity) I drove past Hattonvale. Most of the buildings there are away from the highway, but I am always struck by the incongruity of a cathedral-like church rising from the paddocks.

Most local churches here run to weatherboard exteriors with the occasional exuberance of a small square tower. Many are simply wooden open-plan rectangular halls built up on stumps like many of the houses here. One exception is a beautiful tiny stone church in Ma Ma Creek. The other is the Apostolic Church of Queensland at Hattonvale which combines a historic church with a modern architectural prize-winning extension.

On moving to the area, I made enquiries as to what manner of church this was. Most people had no idea. One ventured “some kind of high church Lutheran.” Until now, this has been all that I have known.

I do know that it has been a centre of German social life for some of the area’s founding settlers so I decided to investigate further. They have a very informative website, outlining their theological beliefs and some of their history.

One reason I am interested in this church, other than the incongruity of its location and architecture, is that Apostle H.F. Niemeyer was involved in bringing hundreds of German migrants to Australia. He also arrived in Australia around the time in which I am interested.

As far as I can tell without theological training, the distinguishing beliefs of the Apostolic Church of Queensland (a church fully contained within Queensland and largely in this area) are the belief that God has continued to appoint apostles to bring special teaching to the church and the idea of being “sealed as a bride of Christ.” As far as I can understand, this means being given the gift of the Holy Spirit through laying on of hands by an apostle. This sealing is seen as one of the sacraments in addition to communion and baptism.

With strong links to English and Scottish Catholic apostolic movements, the ideas of this church developed in the 1860s in central Germany. The church founders welcomed the Prussian success, because their persecution was lessened as the power of the state church waned in the new political climate. The church is now linked to apostolic churches, in the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and France.

Apostles are not paid by the church and are expected to earn a living as “brothers among the brethren.” Apparently this combination of religion and a strong work ethic is a good one judging by the cathedral.

I am not so much interested in the church itself, as I don’t imagine the Jaeckels would be involved with a group that welcomed the Prussian takeover, however, Niemeyer’s experiences in early Queensland may be informative. More to come …

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Contemporary attitudes

Sometimes you learn things or are prompted to think about things in a different way in unexpected places. I’ve been involved with a women’s Bible study in a local town for several years. These groups are the backbones, not only of the church, but also of local communities. Spiritual reasons aside, they are a place where women go to be with other women, to have a cup of tea and a treat, and to take a moment to think outside the parameters of their everyday lives.

For some of the members of this group, this is the one time they have away from husbands and sons, from the demands of caring for others. Our group ranges in age from mid-thirties to late seventies and covers much of the spectrum of modern relationships (though largely within the parameters of a conservative religious group).

A few months ago, we spent some time talking about life goals and whether what we wanted out of life was what we had received so far. If not, the task was to think about what we wanted and to set goals. To “younger” members of the group, this seemed a normal procedure, part of our lives of self-examination and expectation. To older members of the group, it seemed a pointless exercise.

“What do you mean “set goals”? We just get through each day at a time.”

“I got up in the morning, milked the cows, looked after the children, cooked meals, milked the cows, did the farm accounts and went to bed so that I could get up to do it all again in the morning.”

The whole notion of having a life direction and making efforts to steer one’s life in that direction seemed preposterous to these women. The idea of making decisions for one’s own wellbeing or even planning offspring seemed equally absurd. In many ways, you just dealt with what happened to you.

This kind of cultural difference is important when writing a historical novel. I have to avoid imposing my contemporary attitudes on the characters. While farming women in the nineteenth century were strong, independent, courageous, and in many cases forceful and authoritarian, many appeared to be reacting to circumstances rather than directing their own lives.

Perhaps theirs’ was a more realistic understanding of life rather than our perception that we can make entirely independent choices. Either way, I need to write in a way contemporary to my characters’ time, not my own.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Catchy titles and migration history

I have been reading a family history with the catchy title of The Gottlieb Raddatz & extended Kühn & Sellin Families & Descendants of Queensland: including the associated Heeschen, Raaen & Schubert Families: 125th Anniversary of the arrival aboard the Reichstag of the Raddatz, Kühn & Sellin Families to Queensland on 1 August 1872. Fortunately its contents are more engaging than the title. I should not be too critical as the title contains much vital information, but I will need to avoid such descriptiveness in my own.

Unlike many family histories, which dive directly into the mass of genealogical information, the author (Jeffrey E. Hopkins) has made an effort to give a background to the family story. In this case, he outlines some of the conditions in Pomerania, which gave impetus to migrations of entire families, discusses the trip to Queensland and some of the conditions on arrival.

Three points were of particular interest to me. Hopkins indicates that German migrants were actively recruited by Queensland who wanted the “small farmer and artisan” and that agents “were sent there to actively recruit immigrants in the areas most vulnerable to suggestions of a better life in a new land.” (citing a 1991 article by L. Moreland on motivations for German migration).

One recruitment tool that these agents had was the land order system. This meant that if you could pay for your passage you were entitled to land of an equal value on arrival in the colony. Poorer migrants could also access this system with free passage and land on arrival. He doesn’t discuss the conditions of this system. I am assuming that free passage had to be paid for in some way. Were the poorer migrants indentured? Did they get worse land or less choice? Investigation of this land grant system is one of the earliest things I want to research.

A final point of interest was that direct migration from Hamburg ended in 1879. Large-scale migration had begun in 1862 and migration continued after 1879 but never to such an extent.

The Jaeckels will have to leave Hamburg sometime between 1862 and 1879. Bearing in mind that the Prussians took over Marburg in 1866, a departure date of 1866/1867 seems to be a good starting point.

Monday, 16 April 2007

Tangential webs

I have submitted my fellowship application to the John Oxley Library and now need to practice patience. My other practice of patience has been rewarded and it is the last day of the school holidays. I am very fond of my children and enjoy the more relaxed pace of holidays but having them around all day doesn’t leave much time for reading or research.

Perhaps having to put down the issue of names for a few days has allowed ideas to percolate in my mind. I decided to do a web search looking for genealogies listing people born in Hessen-Kessel in the 1800s. Of these, I came up with a list of: Shafer, Pippert, Heppe, Nusbaum, Buechner, Weaver, Kurth, Timmerman, Zoosman, Roelofson and Kellermeier.

I have the idea that I want my family to be artisans, probably bakers so they have a skill which they can bring with them to Queensland. I also know a lot about traditional methods of bread making so that is not something additional that I would need to research. Many Germans had occupational names and I also wanted to know if “Baker” was a probable name.

My trusty German-English dictionary yielded Bäcker, which can be rendered as Baecker in the absence of an umlaut. I googled. “Baecker German genealogy.” A long list ensued. In the way of the web, valuable information arrives tangentially. In this case it was through a website that lists German surnames by regions. From this resource I found a list of names that specifically come from Hessen-Kessel: Neusel/Neussel/Neussell, Jaeckel and Dittmar.

Now I am spoiled for choice especially as none of these names appear in my list of names of settlers in this region. The closest are Buch, Pieper, Kuth and Kurz. There is also a Kraut, which suggests someone might have left a name in Germany.

I originally had an inclination towards Wulff or Wolff, which turned out to be a common Prussian name. I think therefore I will choose Jaeckel.

Friday, 13 April 2007

More thoughts on names

Overnight I have clarified my thoughts about the name. It must be a clearly non-Prussian name because I want my family to have to leave Marburg because they are not Prussian. If the father has fought with the Austrians against the Prussians, then that gives my family motivation, but only if they cannot fit into the new regime. So either they need to be able to be clearly identified as non-Prussian or at least as having fought against the Prussians, or I need to introduce another motivating factor. I’m making the assumption here that “push” factors would be stronger than “pull” factors given how little would be known about Queensland.

On the other hand, if they came to Queensland as assisted passengers with the promise of land once they arrived, maybe that would be enough of a “pull” factor. I don’t want to relinquish the dramatic tension though of having a highly convincing reason to leave Marburg.

I have a great list of family names of original settlers in the back of the publication German Settlement in the Rosewood Scrub. On scanning the 300 or so names, I am amazed by how many are familiar: my children’s school friends; neighbours; the garage that services my car; street names; the guy who has called the Marburg Dance for fifty years; several local builders; the grain merchant; a Queensland cricketing family; families from church; a local trucker; and stalwarts of community organisations. This is why I need a non-local name. My quality of life might be damaged for years.

Thursday, 12 April 2007

It’s all in the name

I have just spent an inordinate amount of time trying to track down appropriate names for my family. It is late in the evening and I thought I would set myself a relatively easy task. I would do a preliminary web search looking for family names from Marburg, or more generally from Hessen-Kessel.

My first block was that almost all records require a name to start the search. I was hoping somewhere might have a list of family names, out of which I could pick something euphonious (and not related to any of my current neighbours who might take exception to having a perceived fictional embodiment).

I do know that I have to look at archives for “Evangelisches” or Protestants because most German settlers in the Rosewood Scrub were Lutherans. Rosewood has the closest proper (that is, full-time rather than circuit) Catholic church because it is on the plains and near the railway, hence favoured by the Anglo-Irish. The hills were settled by the Germans whose favourite religious pastime seemed to be church factionalism, judging by the number and variety of Lutheran churches.

Back to names, I shall have to devise a strategy to find my way through the web of genealogical information available. Apparently, most people are researching ancestors, rather than attempting historical veracity for a work of fiction. Maybe this is in my favour.

Wednesday, 11 April 2007


The fellowship deadline looms and I am deep in the throes of form filling and scribing the outlines of my project. Well, as deep as a combination of a looming deadline and school holidays allows one to be. It reminds me of the days when I was writing my thesis with my firstborn on my lap. I managed to write with a combination of multi-tasking, a supportive partner taking her for long walks around the neighbourhood and starting work as soon as she fell asleep at night.

Now I insist the younger children nap and the oldest read quietly so that I have a few moments during the day to write. “After all” my chant goes, “holidays are for getting rest.” Late evenings are the best, when you know (God willing) that the children will not wake up until the morning and you can think a thought through from beginning to end.

Last night, I spent several hours combing the State Library catalogue, trying to enter text whenever possible and avoid mouse clicks. It wasn’t so much the kids sleeping as my mother-in-law visiting and sleeping around the corner. I am really excited about the material in the library. There is quite a bit of material specific to the Rosewood Scrub but invaluably, a mass of information on early migration including shipboard diaries, personal records, early maps and newspaper clippings. I love the buzz I get at the beginning of a project when I track down materials and am about to dive into the ocean of minutia.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

A real story

A month short of her 23rd birthday, a young woman stepped on a Lufthansa jet in Frankfurt. With her were her toddler son and slightly older daughter. Her son screamed all the way from Germany to Brisbane. She has never felt the same about Lufthansa since that time. The jet landed at Darwin and she walked down the steps onto the tarmac and fell in love with Australia. The only things she could say in English were “My mouth is under my nose” and “The feet are on the table.” Forty years later, I ask her why she came to Australia and what she knew about the country. Knowing almost nothing other than having read one book, she said that she came because she would have gone anywhere with her husband. Everything was strange: the heat, the humidity, the vegetation, yet she always felt at home.

Her life was far from perfect. She share-cropped, did contract farming, chipping and picking. She and her husband had three more children, bought a farm, sold a farm, bought an orchard, lost the orchard to the weather and the bank, lost each other, gained many grandchildren. In her sixties with adult children and still occasionally confusing her v’s, f’s and w’s, she still feels as if she had been given a special gift in coming to Australia.

Should I give any of my imaginary family such a blessing? Or will they hate Australia and regret their decision?

Friday, 6 April 2007

Of Weather and boredom

I have a friend who is returning to New Zealand after living here for a mere thirteen months. Aside from her personal reasons for moving, she included a complaint to me that she finds the weather here “boring.” Every day she gets up and thinks “oh, another bright, sunny day.” She would prefer a little variation and a lot more rain. Obviously when moving here, she paid no attention to the state advertising jingle “Queensland – beautiful one day, perfect the next.”

Aside from the lack of rain, I have no complaints about the weather. After seven years in Minnesota, I am quite happy to be bored by glorious sunshine and warm extremities.

However, my friend’s complaints made me think about weather and how it would have been for what I am going to call “my family” moving here from Germany. I am going to be arbitrary (one of the perks of writing fiction) and make them come from Marburg, Germany. Most of the settlers in my Marburg came from Prussia and since Prussia annexed Hessen-Kessel (of which Marburg was the regional seat) in 1866, that would just fit within my timeframe.

Early formal photos of senior Marburg residents show them wearing medals which are believed to be from the Austrian-Prussian war. Being on the losing side, in a town claimed by the victors as their new administrative centre might give one a very good reason to leave town. Besides, I have been to the original Marburg and walked beside the Lahn.

Briefly, back to the weather. According to my preliminary research, temperatures in that area of Germany (based on information from Frankfurt am Main) range from an average low of -2C to a high of 25C with 12 to 17 rain days on average a month. Compare that with our range (based on Amberley data) from 5.5C to 31C with five months having an average temperature above 29C. While we receive an average 863.6mm of rain, Frankfurt receives 640mm (less rain but more frequently.) On the other hand, over the last few years, we have received considerably less than the average (getting almost exactly the same average as Frankfurt last year but with several consecutive months of insignificant rainfall and high temperatures).

I don’t think my family would have been bored by the weather but I suspect that boredom wasn’t really an issue for them. Boredom tends to be a luxury of the comfortable.

Thursday, 5 April 2007

“Those good ol’ days”

I had to take my son into town today to get a vaccination and on the way home decided to do my usual grocery shopping in the closest supermarket to the clinic. Have I mentioned that it is Easter Thursday, that is, the last day before a four day national long weekend holiday?

As I was pushing my trolley and son around the aisles I was thinking about how much easier it would be if I didn’t have to cope with supermarkets. As I tried to ease my way around the huge displays of Easter eggs clustered with besieged parents, I fantasised about non-commercial Easters. As I tried to pick a checkout lane that was actually moving; as I hauled the trolley to my car (it had other ideas for a direction to head); as I stopped and started my way through town in the heavy traffic and as I adroitly merged onto the highway (well, no-one honked me), I thought about how life was much simpler “in the old days.”

A healthy dose of clear driving, air-conditioning and thought snapped me out of my romantic reverie. Life was hard for the German settlers. You grew most of your own food, you hauled water for vegetables, fruit trees and the animals. You had cows that needed to be milked, fed, watered and butchered at the right time. If you were lucky, you had neighbours who helped with the butchering and maybe had a knack with wurst.

On the other hand, there were stores in town. Marburg had a store, a dairy, post office, bank and that other great essential, the pub (three in fact.) Rosewood had a main street of stores near the railway station. Minden had its own shops. Marburg even had a doctor, the venerable Dr. Euchariste Sirous. Now residents drive to Rosewood, Lowood, Ipswich or even Brisbane or Toowoomba for medical treatment.

Doctors may be rare around the Scrub and I might complain about taking my child to Ipswich for a vaccination, but I also haven’t lost children to dreadful, nowadays preventable causes. The cemeteries around here are full of children's names and the family history books list huge families. Seven children seemed a bare minimum to ensure a family's survival, fourteen or more is common. Easter Thursday aside, I appreciate what I have today.

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Emotions and historical research

As an academic I was never able to immerse myself in a project unless I had some emotional connection to it. The most painful and difficult research done and papers written, were those that were purely functional. This project is anything but functional. It is about discovering more about the history of a place that has become home and a landscape that I love. It is about other loves such as research, writing and thinking. It is about imagination – gathering together enough information to be able to get into the heads of my characters. It is about giving something to my children. Not just a book that they can read but also an awareness of the past.

My immersion seems successful. I find myself viewing the landscape differently. I wonder if I would have selected the property on which we live. I suspect not unless nothing else was available. It is rich in food for the soul (hills, trees, wind and sky) but it would be very difficult to farm because of its topography and lack of water. We are not economically dependant on the land, for which I am grateful.

In fact we are trying to reverse the efforts of those settlers by planting trees and not grazing the paddocks. Instead we slash occasionally or borrow a friend’s horse for a week if anything is needed.

I look at the valley flats and see that the farms there are much more successful. I wonder how much resentment there was over land and water. Today, frictions arise between neighbours over marauding cattle or strategically placed dams. This must have been the case then too. What did neighbours fight over in 19th century Prussia I wonder?

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

On beauty and the impossible task

According to some in the publishing industry, Jane Austen is not attractive enough to sell books. A new edition of one of her books is being published with the only known portrait of her on the cover, but the portrait has been altered to make her more attractive. This fascinating fact was brought to my attention by Verlyn Klinkenborg, one of my favourite writers in the New York Times.

He points out that a writer’s appearance is not the most relevant feature and that what he wants to know is “how anyone who lived 200 years ago talked or sounded or dressed or ate or felt. I would recover all the unrecoverable details about any life that passed in those days just to come to terms with the distance and the difference of the past.”

This coming to terms with the distance and difference of the past is the goal of my research. I don’t want to recite dry facts and figures – we have many listings of those. I don’t want to write an academic treatise – I’ve done that and had a pretty narrow readership. I want to write something that will bring the life of the German settlers vividly to life in my, and others’ imaginations. I want my children to read this book and be excited in the same way they are about fairy tales, fantasy and heroic efforts. I want them to look at the modern world around them and have the old world superimposed on it. I want them to have a sense of the history of where they live and play.

Impossible? I’ve already been asked, very politely, what are my qualifications for this task. I have plenty of academic qualifications and research skills. I’ve written for academic journals and an online magazine. I’ve edited the work of many people, some of whom were very good writers. I’ve read aloud and to myself, many novels for young readers (and quite a few for the not-so-young). However, I’ve never before written a book for young readers. My answer has to be “perhaps”. I plan to trial it on my children who are vigorous critics. Watch this space for details but don't wait for an author photo.

Monday, 2 April 2007

A historical society

One of the treasures of the Rosewood Scrub is its historical society (RSHS). Located in what else but a historical building in downtown Marburg, it is staffed by a small group of dedicated volunteers. In addition to the hall itself, there is also a restored dairy. I am always surprised by how small the dairy is. I would like to take a closer look another time as I have wondered how a cow actually fitted in there, or did you milk outside and just use it for storage? I’m sure that someone there could tell me, or I could look at their online publication Dairying in the Rosewood Scrub.

The dedication of these volunteers is such that two Sunday afternoons a month, they are open to the public to answer questions and allow browsing. Hence, my Sunday afternoon yesterday was spent very pleasantly having a look around the archives and chatting to the two volunteers of the day.

I was a bit like a chocoholic in a lolly shop. I didn’t really know where to start so I looked at the impressive display of photographs. The society has recently completed copying, archiving and safely storing all their historical photographs and reproducing a selection for public display. Many of the photographs were of prominent locals. After all, the main quest for many visitors is family history. For me, the most interesting photographs were of the early farms, buildings and vistas.

In order to focus my research, I am looking at the time when most German settlement seemed to occur – that is, the 1870s and 1880s. From my brief examination of archival material yesterday, it amazed me how quickly the land was cleared and settled. In 1876, the earliest known photograph of Marburg was taken. In the same year, J.L. Frederick who had left Prussia in 1866 was making a formal application for a state school to be established at “Sally Owen’s Plain” in the Rosewood Scrub. Though not in the same location, this school is attended by my children today.

By 1887, advertisement for established farms were appearing in the Queensland Times. One such advertisement on August 9, 1887 read:

"42 acres under plough, permanent dam and an underground tank. There is a comfortable dwelling and two iron tanks -- The property is securely fenced and subdivided –- The land will grow anything." W.M. Haigh and Co. Auction.

This answers one question for me. Farmers did have tanks for water at quite an early stage in addition to dams.

I think that the State Library will be most important for newspaper archives and government records. However, it looks as if the RSHS will be a valuable resource for personal records, photographs and collections of research by local historians.

Sunday, 1 April 2007

Contemporary Views

In order to provide some orientation (and to play with my new digital camera), here are some contemporary shots of Marburg district. This is looking from the side of Two Tree Hill towards the township (which lies to the right) and the distant D’Aguilar Ranges. Brisbane lies on the other side of the mountains. You can see the Warrego Highway to Toowoomba and points west (and north – Darwin is only some 3,400ish kilometres) which now bisects the town. The second view is looking southeast from Two Tree Hill down into the Marburg Valley. As you can see, the area is largely clear of trees with most trees being regrowth. There is some residual scrub on the slopes of Perry’s Nob (yes really!), to the right of the image. Imagine all the slopes of this area covered with dense scrub with the exclamation marks of hoop and other pines.